How we use stories to help children with complex health diagnoses


“Stories are the most powerful form of human communication.” – Peg C. Neuhauser

How our short stories helped both a large and small patient population to understand more about their conditions

Storytelling is a fundamental part of human nature, bringing us together through shared experience, humour and sometimes sadness. We are told stories to fall asleep as children and we tell stories to gain respect as we grow up. Stories are used to communicate in every aspect of our lives.

As communicators, we are told that one of the most powerful ways to communicate is to tell stories. We weave corporate narratives and we beguile journalists with interesting data wrapped up in real-life case studies. There is really no limit to how impactful stories can be in our work, with the patient story inevitably being the most captivating.

Simplifying complexity with storytelling

Although our clients’ fields were very different, oncology and rare diseases, their end objective was ultimately the same: to relay a message to a younger audience in a way that was both engaging and understandable.

Awash with jargon and health terms, parents and grandparents often struggle to explain a multiple myeloma diagnosis to children without scaring them.

Similarly, being diagnosed with a rare disease in childhood can be daunting and isolating. Many children will be monitored but may not start treatment until they are a teenager. It can be hard for a child to understand what to expect with treatment or why they need to be monitored in hospital.

Because our exposure to stories and storytelling starts at a young age, when thinking of effective, novel and interesting ways to engage with children, a storybook approach was just the ticket to solve our client’s challenges.

Co-creating accurate, sensitive content 

Our insights-led approach means that co-creation was at the heart of each both. We worked with patients, nurses and other healthcare professionals to develop the initial concept for each story and use their experiences to help shape the narrative.

Once the key idea and direction of the story was decided, we set about creating and writing an engaging story, always keeping the end audience in mind. Each steering group was consulted at every major milestone, from choosing the illustration style to reviewing the story copy and providing their amends.

Top tips to develop a story with impact

  • Know your audience Obtain as much feedback as possible from your steering group to ensure the storybook is suitable for your target age range
  • Be creative The illustrations and design of your book should work closely with your story. Be sure to do some detailed research into different illustration styles and pick one that will resonate with your audience.
  • Mix it up Experiment and keep your reader interested by using a clever mix of single page images, double page spreads and vignettes.
  • Make it fun For one client, we included a sticker page to bring an interactive element to the book; for another we included colouring pages, a maze and word search.
  • Keep it snappy Resist the urge to add too much text and having too many pages. Children can lose interest quickly.

Measuring success

At Aurora, we believe it is important to measure not just our success but also the difference that our projects make to patients and health care professionals. By speaking to nurses and other professionals distributing our storybooks, we gather qualitative feedback about the impact they have made.

We know that storytelling is just the tip of the iceberg. By following our robust approach to patient involvement and co-creation, we can continue to deliver materials and campaigns that make a real difference to patients and their families.

If you’d like to hear more about how you can involve patients and represent them in your work, contact

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